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Budget Cuts Sharply Reduced Community-College Access in California, Report Says

California’s community colleges must develop new sources of revenue and find more cost-effective ways of delivering courses in order to bridge the gap between education supply and demand, says a new report by the Public Policy Institute of California.

The report, based on community-college reports and a survey last fall of more than 100 senior administrators throughout the system, found that unprecedented cuts in state support for community colleges from 2007 to 2012 had reduced access to education and sent enrollments plunging to a 20-year low. The cuts totaled $1.5-billion in 2011 dollars.

The passage last fall of Proposition 30, a ballot measure that raised certain taxes and headed off additional budget cuts, replaced some of the lost money—$210-million in 2012-13 alone. But “the size of the increase pales in comparison to the size of the cuts in recent budgets,” the report says.

Among the solutions that others have proposed are consolidating community-college districts, enlarging class sizes, and providing more online courses, but the authors point out that each has its limits and pitfalls. Alternative fee scenarios have some potential, the report suggests: “A sliding scale or increase in fees that accompanies increases in grants could increase total revenues, hold low-income students harmless, and allow colleges to enroll more students.”

“It is incumbent upon both the community colleges and the state,” the report concludes, “to find creative ways to generate revenue and create the efficiencies that will enable the colleges to meet their most basic mission—providing skilled workers who can effectively participate in California’s vibrant and dynamic economy.”

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